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Retrospective follows the 2003 theft of Half-Life 2's code


Half-Life 2 was never destined to release on time. It is a Valve project, after all. However, Gabe Newell and company couldn't have predicted that -- months before its expected release -- the game's source code would be stolen and distributed on the internet. "Is this going to destroy the company?," a designer supposedly asked Newell when it happened in 2003.

Eurogamer interviewed Axel Gembe, the young man responsible for breaching Valve's security and stealing the code. Gembe describes himself as a devoted fan of Valve, admitting that the original Half-Life was his favorite game. After his computer became infected with malware, he became inspired: instead of trying to remove the program, he reverse-engineered it to understand how it worked, and then began working on his own code. Hungry for details on the long-delayed Half-Life 2, Gembe knocked on Valve's virtual doors and found it "easy" to get access.

After the breach, Valve struggled in finding leads on how the source code got stolen. But on February 14, 2004, Newell received a rather odd e-mail. Gembe was confessing to the crime, noting that he was "sorry for what happened." Naively, he asked Newell for a job at Valve, thinking it would be best for both parties involved. "I hoped for the best," although Valve was already coordinating with the FBI for his arrest. "I was not the brightest kid back then."

After serving a two-year probation, Gembe eventually found work in the security sector, wisened from his experience. "I was naïve and did things that I should never have done," he told Eurogamer. "There were so many better uses of my time. I regret having caused Valve Software trouble and financial loss."

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